Tuesday, August 11, 2009


His name was Willard Smith. I first met him in the fall of 1969 while a VISTA Volunteer in the 3rd Ward of Houston, Texas. On a whim, I went to a horse auction with another VISTA and we ended up bidding on a nervous little gelding recently shipped in from the Texas panhandle. Much to our surprise, but more to our disbelief, our $150. bid took the prize.

If not for a generous old man, who also bought a hundred dollar horse that day, we may have had to ride our new friend home. I can still see the two horses standing in the bed of this guy's old pick-up truck. Following them on the freeway was just about heart stopping. At least we had a destination. Fortunately, my partner in crime, Julie, had located a horse boarding stable about 10 miles from our home and that's when I met the Smith family.
Our little brown gelding arrived in good shape. Never question anything an old black man in overalls knows and does. We paid him about 10 bucks for the task and parted company. Albion, the name of our new charge, remained fairly skiddish during the next few months, but our friendship with Willard blossomed. He, his wife, and two sons were most helpful. In speech, manner, and appearance, he represented the Texas I feared, but Willard was hardly a threat; he was a gentleman, a teacher, and a humanitarian. In time, we traded Albion for Amber, a beautiful buckskin mare who had been a barrel racing champ. Seems as if Willard knew of a soon to be divorced Texas princess who just wanted to move on. He gave us a deal we couldn't refuse. Albion went to another boarder at the stable who could give him the time and attention he needed. We could still visit him.
If you are interested in hearing more about Willard, his family, and his abundant horsemanship, you'll just have to read my book: Above This Wall: The Life and Times of a VISTA Volunteer 1969-70
It's all there, including the reason for Willard's huge laugh in this photo.
He was the Texan I remember most; a lone star in an enormous sky.

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